Is it not wonderful that they should have failed to deduce from the works of God the vitally momentous consideration that a perfect consistency can be nothing but an absolute truth?
Our religion is under attack. We are under attack. To defeat our opponents we must first convince ourselves that our doctrines are true and our ways are good. How can we know these things?
To know despite uncertainty and opposition we must have an argument. Not “argument” in the sense of fighting, but having a persuasive case. We must persuade ourselves first and then (God willing) we can persuade others.
My emphasis here is on persuading ourselves. If we know how we know, and we know our doctrine is true, only then can we defend ourselves.
Using arguments to defend one’s doctrine goes by the name “apologetics,” especially in Christendom. There has always been disagreement over the best type of apologetics. A recent development (about a hundred years old) is the school of Presuppositional Apologetics. It arose within Protestantism of the Reformed variety. Like all important terms, “presuppositional apologetics” has many layers of meaning. There are a few root ideas and many subsequent developments. As with all schools of thought, the presuppositional schoolmen sometimes go off into the weeds.
But the root idea of presuppositionalism is decisive for apologetics: All thinking is governed by presuppositions, meaning basic beliefs that are accepted without proof and often without conscious awareness.
(Thinking is also governed by other factors: emotions, sensations, memories, etc. This work deals with the objective content of thought, that is, thinking about matters that can be true or false.)
The atheist, for example, says there is no evidence for God and therefore he does not believe. There is evidence, but the atheist presupposes that reality is material only and that to be rational is to think materialistically. He does not examine and prove these notions, he accepts them as his presuppositions. Judging the evidence by his presupposition of atheism, the atheist sees only atheism and is surprised that anyone could doubt what he finds obvious.
Likewise the socio-political liberal presupposes (inter alia) that a toxic wh*t* s*pr*m*cy suffuses America like smog, that all people are naturally equal, and that individual persons define their identities in any way they wish. No modern liberal tests these ideas; they are presuppositions.
The vast majority of mankind has always lived by accepting the presuppositions of their community. But we live in volatile times. The old presuppositions of America are in wide disrepute and other presuppositions are competing for customers. Many consumers are confused by the variety of products. How can the shopper discern the best product?
Presuppositions are not proved because proof must always start somewhere. If everything must be proved there is an endless regression of proofs, and we know nothing. If “proof” must be done formally, by calling on other truths as witnesses, then there must be beliefs that are not proved. These unproved beliefs are presuppositions.
Even though a presupposition is not proved, we must have evidence to support it. We want our presuppositions to be true, so we do not choose them randomly. At the very least, we have some outcome we want to be true and we look around for presuppositions or evidence to support it, which is the way many people seem to operate.
So presuppositions must be tested. The verb “test” is related to “prove,” but whereas proof is more formally defined within the discipline of epistemology, “testing” is less formal. It is more intuitive.
Intuition is the faculty, or the process, of knowing something immediately, without going through a process of formal reasoning. Although God is the ultimate basis of all our knowing because He is the basis of all truth, yet within ourselves, intuition is the ultimate basis of all our knowledge. Truth does not help us until we grasp it, and intuition is the ultimate means by which we grasp truth.
Presuppositions, the basis of all our formal knowledge, are by definition not proved. But we cannot choose our presuppositions randomly, because we have an intuitive sense that some things really are true or false. So how do we test our presuppositions?
This is the key question. We can know truth only by identifying our presuppositions and then testing them. To know the truth about anything we must first have the right way of thinking about it, so first we must know that we have the right way of thinking.
So how do we test presuppositions?
In two ways. True presuppositions must accord with our intuitive sense of what things are true and false. And the presuppositions, along with the other truths that they prove, must be consistent. Truth is a consistent system.
So we must have a consistent system that accords with our intuitive sense of how the world operates, but with two major caveats which I discuss shortly.
My model here is Euclidian Geometry. In his celebrated Elements, Euclid attempted to show how all geometric knowledge could be derived from a minimal set of axioms which express primitive, apparently-obvious facts about points, lines and planes. But system-building sometimes leads to unexpected results. When Euclid attempted to prove his Parallel Theorem (“Through any given point not on a line there passes exactly one line parallel to that line in the same plane”) he found that his system of axioms could not prove it. Instead, he had to adopt the Parallel Postulate, and express this truth as an unproved, but intuitively obvious, idea.
In Euclid’s system, presuppositions (axioms) lead to other propositions (theorems) that are proved, and the entire system is then judged as a whole. If no contradiction can be derived from the presuppositions, and if both the presuppositions and the other propositions they support appear true to our intuition (some theorems require ingenuity to be rendered self-evident), then we have confidence that the system is true.
Other systems of thought have similarity to Euclidian geometry. In other fields, the definitions may not be so sharp, the axioms may not be universally agreed-upon, and the reasoning may not be as precise, but in form the systems are similar: All is based on a set of presuppositions, which are known by intuition. Man, as a rational animal, cannot think otherwise.
I said that we know we have truth when we have a consistent system that accords with our intuitive sense of how the world operates, but with two major caveats. Here they are.
The first is this: God is the ultimate determiner of reality, and therefore of truth. God equipped man with the ability to grasp many truths about the world without consciously thinking of God. But there are truths that mankind cannot know unless God reveals them to him in written form. This written Revelation is the Bible.
The second caveat is this: Man’s intuition can be perverted, and therefore he must be willing to test his beliefs. Our intuitions are sometimes mistaken.
All people have presuppositions which control the outcome of their thinking. Therefore if we are to have integrity we must test our presuppositions. They seem right to us, or else we would not have presupposed them. But perhaps they are not consistent. Since my intuition tells me that truth exists and is self-consistent, I conclude that an inconsistent system of presuppositions is false at some point, and must be modified.
We must also test our presuppositions by their consequences. For example, the classic error of hard materialism runs as follows:
Major premise: If hard materialism is true, then consciousness is not real.
Minor premise: Hard materialism is true.
Conclusion: Consciousness is not real.
But the correct reasoning is as follows:
Major premise: If hard materialism is true, then consciousness is not real.
Minor premise: Consciousness is real. [We know this intuitively]
Conclusion: Hard materialism is false.
We correct presuppositions which lead to false conclusions.
Authority also plays a role in epistemology. Some things can only be known because a trustworthy authority tells us. Most of us cannot know the latest facts from astrophysics unless an astrophysicist tells us, and he speaks the truth, and we understand and believe him. Theoretically, some people could take the time to learn enough astrophysics to understand the latest research. But the vast majority of mankind lacks the intelligence, spare time, and determination to be able to follow astrophysics on their own. For all practical purposes, the rest of mankind must trust the authorities.
We also cannot know that we are in danger of Hell, and that Jesus Christ is our only rescue, unless God tells us this truth and we believe Him. We cannot derive these truths from our own resources.
This relates to the question “How can we know Christianity is true?”
To answer the question properly we must understand that any serious system of thought has a highest authority. The atheist’s highest authority is mankind: Either man the individual (“I make my own truth”) or man the group (“Each culture defines its own truth.”)
So the contention is not between the rationalists who accept the findings of modern science versus those crazy fundamentalists who rely on the Bible. It is between those who see mankind as the ultimate determiner of truth versus those who acknowledge God as the Supreme Being. And the atheist, if he is to have integrity, cannot simply presuppose that atheism is correct and that mankind is the ultimate determiner of truth. To have integrity, a man must test his system.
The ultimate reason Christianity is true is this: As a system, Christianity works better than any other system. It is consistent within itself and it best explains the facts of the world. The other systems work less well, or poorly. This is the key insight of presuppositional apologetics.
When the role of presuppositions is understood, the non-presuppositional apologetics goes to work. Evidential apologetics looks at the evidence and shows how it supports and is consistent with Christianity.
A cynic would point to all the different versions of Christianity. But as a defeater of Christianity this objection fails. All the non- and anti-Christian systems also have different versions. And there is a ready explanation for the phenomenon pointed out by the cynic: One of the versions of Christianity is the optimal one.
So the person who argues against Christianity cannot just assume his system is correct. It’s not enough to point out apparent problems with Christianity. Within the atheist’s system, Christianity appears false, but within the system of Christianity, atheism is false. So whose system is better? Accusing the biblical God of being a tyrant, or accusing the biblical authors of lying, or pooh-poohing accounts of the Resurrection fail radically as disproof of Christianity. When two systems contend, a deeper level of thinking is required.
The basic test of systems is to ask, Which system works better?
The discernment of the answer can be made in different ways, at different levels of sophistication or complexity, but when the answer comes to you, must be grasped intuitively. Christian doctrine expresses this by saying that faith – – the ability to believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior – – is a gift that God gives only to some. The evidence can be accumulated, but some people respond correctly and some do not.
What is some of this evidence for Christianity? The evidence fills libraries so it is only appropriate here to give an outline. This essay is about the big picture, not the details.
Atheistic governments unchained from the traditional Christianity of Western man have committed mass atrocities, not incidentally in moments of passion, but as expressions of their essence. Atheistic philosophy becomes incoherent by making human understanding – – which constantly changes – – the ultimate ground of truth. The social systems of the modern world – – which shake their fists at God – – are spiraling out of control.
The system of contemporary Western atheism can also be criticized intellectually. This is a more esoteric and elitist critique that is not for everyone. But if the world does not begin – – either temporally or logically or metaphysically – -with mind, love and purpose already existent, these can never come into being. Since they are here, they must have come from God, the necessary eternal Being.
And what is this Being like? As noted above, the God of the Bible is characterized by mind, love and purpose. He has the power and wisdom to create an ordered universe, and to create mankind capable of detecting this order. If such a Being exists, He is capable of communicating with us, and of validating His message. Since even contemporary science knows that matter is not eternal, this God was able to create matter from nothing other than Himself. Being this powerful, God could have planned and executed the campaign of salvation that is described in the Bible, and He could have intervened with miracles to keep His campaign advancing, and to supply proof of His intentions when necessary. (Especially the miracles of the Exodus and of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ.) If God exists, there is nothing foolish about the Bible.
If the Christian system is true, man is a fallen but noble creature. He can regain his former glory by acknowledging and submitting to God his maker through faith in Jesus Christ, his Savior. If Christianity is true, the cosmos makes sense because it was created by a Being who is Sense itself. If Christianity is true, man can know how to honor his God and to live in peace with his fellow man. If Christianity is true, mankind does not need to struggle to “change the world,” or to “make a difference,” or to “be the change that you want to see.” When he is in Christ, man has all the righteousness he needs.
That is why Christians call on all mankind to have faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and be saved.
And what about defending America? The basic point which the patriot should make to the liberal, the leftist, the gl0bαlιst, the 0lιgαrch, the deep-stαtεr, the Alphabet activist, et al, is this:
Your system controls the world. Your system does not work.
Consider the world under your rule: Anτιfα violence, C0vιd tyrαηηy and socio-economic disruption, officially-endorsed rαcιαl hαtrεd, vengeful and tyrαnnιcαl government, filthy popular culture, debased standards leading to increasing incompetence, hostility between men and women and between parents and children, etc.
Your system controls all Western governments. Like communists blaming counterrevolutionaries, your side blames “Τrυmρ supporters.” But your system has ruled for decades. Your system caused the current mess.
Your system does not work.